The closet was at the end of the hall. The door, thick with many layers of enamel, wouldn’t fully close; a good thing too, considering how much time I spent inside.
My dear mother saw to it that anything not up to her standards was banished into its dark recesses, and though she did not seem to include my father and her three unruly sons, I am certain there were times she gave serious consideration to exiling each of us from her carefully curated rooms.
I was born during the war, named for Bogie’s character in Casablanca, brought up in the bucolic Bronx. All I knew was the comfort and safety of family and a busy and happy home. But rummaging through the boxes tucked under the winter draperies and slip covers, the galoshes and softball trophies, I found portfolios of newspapers that opened a window for me on another way of seeing my world.
During the war my father had saved many tabloid papers. Pop was a tough guy. He’d been a street kid who knew something about fighting. Years later, he told me he saved these headlines, but he put them away because they frightened him.
My love of reading history began in that closet, the hair-raising front pages illuminated by a flashlight taped onto the crown of one of Pop’s fedoras, which I wore with tissue paper stuck in the band so it wouldn’t slip down over my eyes. Safe in my hideaway, I discovered the power type and graphic design had to reach me viscerally. I read of a continent at war, populations uprooted, cities in ruins, and I understood when my mother told me to eat my dinner because “children in Europe were starving,” that they really were starving! As the war years receded into the past, what I found in these tabloids kept that time alive for me. I returned again and again to find photos and maps and vivid stories that evoked a narrative of war and sparked my desire to read and to know more.
There was one other thing: with each saved tabloid front page came a tabloid back page, also evocative of time and place, and at times of equal or greater interest to a boy in the Bronx; “DIMAGGIO HITS TWO AS YANKS SCALP TRIBE!”